Sunday, January 15, 2012

"L" - Limited Atonement: Summary and Thoughts

I'm currently reading through the books For Calvinism by Michael Horton and Against Calvinism by Roger E. Olson.  This post is one of a series of posts where I discuss the thoughts, impressions, and questions that surface during this study.  Click here for the first post in this series.

In chapter 3, Olson describes limited atonement by first stating that all Calvinists accept the penal substitution theory of the atonement, namely that 

[T]hey believe... that God punished Jesus for the sins of the people God wanted to save... In other words, Jesus Christ satisfied the justice of God by bearing the deserved punishment of every person God wanted to save.  That's what makes them "savable". (pp. 47)

He then goes on to define what limited atonement means:

The limited nature of the atonement... was in its scope and not in its value. It was particularly intended by God for particular people (as opposed to everyone indiscriminately) and it definitely secured or accomplished the salvation of those for whom it was intended - the elect. (pp. 47)

and later, adds this little tidbit:

[M]ost Calvinists deny that God intended the cross for all people, which means, of course, that he does not love everyone in the same way. (pp. 48)

This part of the chapter is where Olson begins to present some material that I'm anxious to hear from Horton's (pro-Calvinist) point of view.  Olson gives a short summary of how Calvinists explain the various benefits received by the elect and non-elect, especially in light of the "all" passages in scripture.  Olson describes how Calvinists claim (as in the quote above) that God loves everybody, but not in the same way.  So Christ died for the sins of the elect, but not the sins of the reprobate.  Christ's death benefits the non-elect in a more general way, like in the rising of the sun (Matthew 5:45).  The "all" passages in scripture are said to apply to the non-elect in this more general way.

Olson puts it like this:

On the basis of what Scriptures do Calvinists affirm limited atonement? ... Boettner, Sproul, Piper and others point to passages such as John 10:15; 11:51-52; and 17:6, 9 19, in which Jesus says things such as "I lay down my life for the sheep."

Olson will rebut this more completely in chapter 6, but here he simply states that these passages, all of which indeed talk bout Jesus dying for "his people" do not necessarily exclude the possibility of Jesus dying for others.  He continues:

In fact, 1 John 2:2 clearly states that he, Jesus, is the atonement for the sins of the whole world. Piper and others claim this refers to the children of God scattered throughout the world and not everyone. (pp. 50)

I'm sure Horton will present this argument more elegantly, but to me this claim just reeks of BS. Combine this with the divine picture that emerges when God is charged with sending people to hell "for his good pleasure", and the "T" in TULIP becomes the most problematic, at least for me.


Anonymous said...

I like this series. The older I get the more difficulty I have in reconciling the notion of a good God with a God who creates some people and intentionally withholds his love from them. I don't think they are fundamentally incompatible; I understand that we may not understand God and our ideas of love may be hopelessly warped. With that said, the closest analogy that comes to my mind would be a parent withholding love from a child, and that strikes me as wrong no matter *what* the circumstances. I mean love here strictly, and not things associated with it like gift-giving, or discipline, or forbearance. A parent who loves his or her children will naturally use these in different degrees according to the differing temperaments of those children.

I recognize this is an imperfect analogy; we are not God, we are commanded to love, etc. But you can't discard all of our emotional and intellectual reactions to claims like this, or you are left with no means to even engage in the argument at all.

Is it uncharitable to suspect that some people want God to be like this?

Joe said...

Thanks for your comment. I get a little wary when we start to suggest that God's love might be altogether different from our conception of love. If God's love is so different from what we believe love is (informed by scripture, i.e. 1 Cor. 13) then is the concept useful at all? God describes himself as loving, and for that to mean something completely different than what the word actually means, that's a non-starter for me.

David said...

Hey there,

Regarding 1 John 2:2 referring to the children, that was first made popular by John Owen, and it was based on John 11:51 and context. Ive written a reply to it here:

The argument from the alleged parallel is just junk. It cannot be taken seriously.

Thanks for your time,